The 10 Best Single Season Casts In Saturday Night Live History

Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers at the Weekend Update desk
(Image credit: NBC)

Since the conclusion of Saturday Night Live Season 47, seven cast members have announced their departure from the show. In addition to Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, and Kyle Mooney, three more cast members have announced in the past month they won’t be returning: Melissa Villasenor, Alex Moffat, and featured player Aristotle Atari.

This news means new cast members, likely in the form of featured players who will have to prove their worth before becoming established as repertory players. It could be a recipe for disaster—but keep in mind that even the greats like Chris Farley and Kristen Wiig were featured players once, too.

Lorne Michaels, SNL’s longtime showrunner, has even called the upcoming season a “transition year” due to the four new cast members who will be joining, but as we’ll point out in the list below, transition seasons aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

Let’s take a look back at some of the greatest single-season Saturday Night Live casts and discuss what made them so special. Plus, we’ll examine how some of these historic casts rebounded from major cast losses.

Kenan Thompson and Bowen Yang on Season 47 of SNL

(Image credit: NBC)

10. Season 47 (2021-2022)

This might be a controversial opinion, but the most recent Saturday Night Live cast arguably ranks among the best.

Season 47 had the strong foundation of many long-running cast members—Pete Davidson, Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, and Keenan Thompson had all established impressive tenures as repertory players, and the Weekend Update duo of Michael Che and Colin Jost consistently crushed.

But, what really makes Season 47 special is the promise of new, talented cast members. We can already see the influence of Emmy-nominated Bowen Yang (SNL's first Chinese-American cast member) and the off-color humor of Sarah Sherman, as well as the strong writing of the Please Don’t Destroy gang. Standout hosts like Billie Eilish and Kim Kardashian contributed to some of the best sketches of the season, like “The People’s Kourt” (Kim’s impression of her sister, Kourtney) and “Business Garden Inn & Suites & Hotel Room Inn.”

Martin Short in a sketch from Season 10 of Saturday Night Live

(Image credit: NBC)

9. Season 10 (1984-1985)

After Eddie Murphy’s departure from the show at the conclusion of Season 9, Saturday Night Live was in desperate need of new heavy-hitters to carry the show. Enter Billy Crystal and Martin Short.

This cast worked during a strange time for SNL—Lorne Michaels had been fired several seasons earlier, and Season 11 would be made up of essentially all-new cast members upon his return to producing—but Season 10 had some moments of brilliance thanks to Crystal, Short, and Christopher Guest.

With great sketches like “Superman Auditions” and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s hilarious spittakes on the mock talk show “Inside Out,” Season 10 just about saved SNL from permanent ruin.

Will Ferrell with host Mariel Hemingway on SNL

(Image credit: NBC)

8. Season 21 (1995-1996)

Another big cast overhaul after Season 20 made room for some of SNL’s greatest cast members of all time. Will Ferrell joined the cast, as well as Darrell Hammond and Cheri Oteri. Chris Kattan and Colin Quinn also joined as featured players.

When combined with returning cast members Norm Macdonald, Tim Meadows, Molly Shannon, and David Spade, this cast ushered in one of Saturday Night Live’s “golden eras.”

The famous “Bill Brasky” and “Night at the Roxbury” sketches premiered in Season 21, marking two more recurring Will Ferrell sketches that would become iconic.

John Belushi and Gilda Radner in a sketch from Season 1 of SNL

(Image credit: NBC)

7. Season 1 (1975-1976)

There’s a reason some people say SNL hasn’t been good since the beginning—and it’s not because newer casts suck. It’s because the original cast was just that good.

Introduced as the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players,” the original cast of Saturday Night Live included John Belushi (one of SNL’s all-time greats), as well as Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, and Gilda Radner. 

The most memorable sketches from Season 1 occur thanks to the talents of Belushi, whose numerous recurring characters became the heart of the show. Chevy Chase’s “Word Association” sketch with Richard Pryor is also one of the season’s best.

Most of the cast stuck around for many seasons after the first, but there was something special about that original cast that set the tone for the nearly 50 seasons that would follow.

Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon as Hanz and Franz

(Image credit: NBC)

6. Season 14 (1988-1989)

Season 14’s cast was very similar to Season 13’s—SNL frontman Dana Carvey returned, along with Nora Dunn, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, and Kevin Nealon.

Lorne Michaels also added two new cast members: Ben Stiller (who only lasted about a month), and Mike Myers, who would go on to become one of the most memorable cast members of all time.

Myers and Carvey would ultimately team up for Wayne’s World, a sketch that turned into a phenomenon and later, a film—and it all started during Season 14.

Other unforgettable sketches from Season 14 include the Hanz and Franz sketches, as well as Carvey’s recurring portrayal of George W. Bush.

Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanz in a "Katilin" sketch

(Image credit: NBC)

5. Season 30 (2004-2005)

After Jimmy Fallon left the show, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler took over the Weekend Update Desk, making them the only two-woman anchor team in SNL history. The pair were backed by a talented cast, including two very important featured players: Jason Sudeikis, now best known for his work on the Emmy-winning comedy Ted Lasso, and Kenan Thompson, who would go on to become the longest-running cast member in SNL history.

Top sketches from Season 30 include “The Adventures of Peter O’Toole and Michael Caine,” and Darrell Hammond’s Bill Clinton impressions, as well as Amy Poehler’s annoying but endearing “Kaitlin” sketches.

Jimmy Fallon playing the guitar on Weekend Update

(Image credit: NBC)

4. Season 25 (1999-2000)

Season 25 included a number of Saturday Night Live legends, including Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Ana Gasteyer, Darrel Hammond, Tracy Morgan, Horatio Sanz, and Molly Shannon. The two new featured players, however, would change the show forever: Rachel Dratch and Maya Rudolph. 

Undoubtedly, the most famous sketch from Season 25 is “Behind the Music: Blue Oyster Cult,” a.k.a. The Cowbell Sketch. Other great sketches from this season include Ana Gasteyer’s Martha Stewart sketches and Will Ferrell’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio” sketches.

Horatio Sanz, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan, and Tracy Morgan perform a Christmas song on SNL

(Image credit: NBC)

3. Season 28 (2002-2003)

By Season 28, Dratch and Rudolph had been upgraded to repertory status. Tina Fey had also joined the cast, joining Jimmy Fallon behind the Weekend Update desk.

But SNL had to fill a void—Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer had left the show after the previous season. Three new featured players were brought in, all of whom would go on to become long-running SNL legends: Fred Armisen, Will Forte, and Seth Meyers, the current host of Late Night on NBC.

Memorable sketches include “Colonel Angus,” and “Mom Jeans,” as well as “Box,” Will Forte’s oddball sketch about a man hiding inside a box in order to catch his wife cheating.

Chris Farley and Kevin Nealon in a sketch from Season 19

(Image credit: NBC)

2. Season 19 (1990-1991)

One of the most iconic SNL casts of all time was that of Season 19. They had lost Dana Carvey and Chris Rock after Season 18, causing many to worry if the show could go on without them.

This team did not disappoint: Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, Adam Sandler, Rob Schnieder, and David Spade stepped up to the plate and became one of the most beloved casts in the show’s history.

Farley continued his “Matt Foley” sketches during Season 19, and Meyers debuted his “Hyper Hypo” character, but many of the best sketches from Season 19 come from John Malkovich’s hosting gig in Episode 4 (including a Menendez brothers sketch and an “Of Mice and Men” parody with two Lennies). Of course, we can’t forget Sandler’s “Lunch Lady Land,” a sketch that would have been incomplete without the interpretive dance stylings of Chris Farley as the lunch lady.

Season 19 was also the first season for Norm Macdonald, who would go on to be recognized as one of the most legendary comedians of all time.

While this season itself isn’t necessarily recognized as one of SNL’s best, the talent and power of the cast speaks for itself.

Jason Sudeikis and Kristen Wiig in one of their "Two A-holes" sketches

(Image credit: NBC)

1. Season 32 (2006-2007)

Saturday Night Live Season 32’s cast was only made up of 11 people—but nearly every one of them is recognized as an SNL legend.

In addition to Fred Armisen, Will Forte, Darrel Hammond, Seth Myers, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Jason Sudeikis, and Kenan Thompson, three newer cast members were upgraded to repertory status: Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, and Kristen Wiig.

With Meyers and Poehler running Weekend Update and Samberg continuing his Digital Shorts with The Lonely Island (“Dick in a Box” came out of Season 32), this cast found a way to separate themselves from their predecessors and bring the show into the 21st century.

Wiig’s “Carpool” sketch with Alec Baldwin is a can’t miss moment from Season 32, as well as “Body Fuzion,” the '80s workout video sketch featuring host Drew Barrymore. Forte’s “MacGruber” sketches also came out of Season 32. While everyone has their favorite sketch from this season, each episode is undeniably strong thanks to the cast.

New cast members haven’t yet been announced for Season 48 of Saturday Night Live—but they certainly have big shoes to fill. If we’ve learned anything from the past, one of these new cast members could be the next big thing in comedy. 

Saturday Night Live Season 48 premieres on NBC on October 1. Episodes of past seasons are available to stream on Peacock, and are also included with a Hulu subscription.

Emily Marek

She/her. Lover of female-led comedies, Saturday Night Live, and THAT scene in Fleabag. Will probably get up halfway through the movie to add more butter to the popcorn.